Peter do you "agape" (love) me?


Been doing some personal studies and came across something interesting in John 21:15

this is where Jesus asks Peter 3 times if he loves him and Peter replied yes three times.

If you dig deeper into the Greek you will find the first two times Jesus asked Peter if he agape him and Peter replies yes Lord you know I phileo you. when Jesus asked the third time he asked peter if he phileo him and as we all know Peter broke

For those that don’t know Agape is a much higher form of self-sacrificing love while phileo is a lesser brotherly love.
I have read several interpretations of this how I see it and I wanted the opinion of others.

I see Jesus as confronting Peter for his betrayal when he denied knowing Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter did not agape him because Peter abandoning him and saying he did not know him. Peter says you know I phileo you (the lesser love) and the when Jesus said phileo he broke as this is a condemning of his lowly love as opposed to the supernatural love required of him. this is Jesus confronting and telling Peter he needs to agape he

then in acts we see Peter become the great man that does agape Jesus. Am I right?


Correct. That’s a fairly common interpretation. Jesus accepts where Peter is at that time (while having drilled into Peter what’s missing) and still commisions him to be a shepherd to the Christian flock. And we can understand that Jesus telling Simon Peter how he will die is him letting Peter know that Peter will come to agape Jesus in the future. We see Peter develop in Acts, as indicated, and we know Peter was willing to die for Christ.


One note of caution – Jesus and Peter were speaking Aramaic, not Greek. The choice of words in this passage was John’s.


I want to correct my post. I don’t know if I’d use the word “condemning” to describe Jesus’ attitude in this exchange, though I think he was making a point to Peter. As previously noted, I think we can see that Jesus wants to underline the distinction for Peter, but he does accept Peter as he was then.

Very true, and we may never know the exact words spoken. But in this case, it seems the best explanation is that there is a real implied distinction here in the difference in terms, and it’s not just a translation accommodation or transliteration. (At least, from anything I’ve found). The distinction makes sense in context and what we know.



I think that people “love” to find hidden things (I love it when I find that there was something hidden from me that I yet to have had discovered; not to have had this “great revelation” that others hadn’t) in Scriptures (and in others things…); but what is interesting is how they ignore many things in order to come to the conclusions that they do…

What is the first demonstration about Jesus’ and Peter’ relationship that we find in Scriptures… there are several versions on how they met… but there’s one particular passage that forecasts their relationship:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]8 When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man’. 9 For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; 10 so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch’.

(St. Luke 5:8-10)
…even though many experienced the same event, it was Simon who fell to the ground, pronounced his unrighteousness and asked Jesus to depart from him; Simon recognized Jesus’ station as far above his own… Jesus was a Holy Man!

…now, the last time Cephas’ and Jesus’ eyes met in complete intimacy, Simon was denying to have Known Him… though there was a physical separation between them… this event took place in huge intimacy:

60 'My friend,’ said Peter ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ At that instant, while he was still speaking, the cock crew, 61 and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered what the Lord had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will have disowned me three times’. 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

(St. Luke 22:6-62)
…Peter finds himself in such great intimacy again… and Jesus Commands a Confession of Love from him… can any of us jump the gun (as all of them did right before Jesus’ arrest): ‘Lord, I Love (Agape) you so much that I would die for You!?’

I doubt that many of us would have such strength… the best we might be able to muster, as Cephas, Lord, You Know that I love (phileo) You.’

…what is also missing from many’s exegesis is the understanding that Jesus is Delegating the Guardianship of the Church to Cephas:

‘Feed my lambs’. ‘Look after my sheep’. ‘Feed my sheep.

…now, Peter is Commanded to Feed Christ’s Lambs, to care for Christ’s sheep and to feed Christ’s sheep… noticed that there are two ‘feed’ Commands?

…could the Lambs not be the Apostles, the leadership of the Church, and the sheep be the Believers, all of the Church?

Maran atha!




That is not an adequate rendering of the difference. Philia is not lesser than agape; it is different. Philia is friendship love, which was a very respected and “high” form of love for Greek speakers. Agape is a word rarely used in Greek, and it is used with a special definition in the NT. Agape in the NT denotes self-sacrificing love.

So I think when Peter responds, “I am your dear friend”, Jesus pushes him with the question, “Will you die for me?” And the third time Jesus changes to phileo, not to condemn or criticize Peter, but to say that THESE ARE SYNONYMS. In other words, to say that “Hey, Peter, if you’re gonna say you’re my friend, that MEANS you will give your life for me!” Compare John 15:13: “Greater agape has no man than this, that he give up his life for his friends” (philon).


This cannot be taken out of the context of the seamless garment of the scriptures. Jesus prophesied both Peter’s denial as well as his reaffirmation of his love for Christ.

Luke 22:31-34 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (plural), that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you (singular) that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.”

Repentance is turning.


It is interesting that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Could that to fulfil the basic three relationships that we can have with Jesus? That he is God and King (agape), brother (storge) and friend (philia). :slight_smile:

Yup, the passage of asking Peter to feed His sheep. And that he was the only apostle to be tasked to do this (to be Pope?) but that another subject.

In Christian leadership context, this passage is often understood as a restoration of Peter.

Each of the question being asked whether he loved Jesus was for each of the time when he denied Him. One can imagine how Peter cried now as he was then after the third time but this time, he was restored. He had made peace with the Master.

“Yes, verily I know that you love me and now you will truly do and will not fail in your love. I am going to give you a bigger task – feed my people even if you have to give your life to do that as I had given mine.” (paraphrased)

Perhaps a prerequisite in Christian leadership, that when we love Jesus truly, then we will be given the task by Him as He did to Peter. Peter had to first of all declare that love as to who and what Jesus is to him.



…not just the leadership… Jesus insists: ‘I you Love Me, Obey My Commandments.’ And He states that ‘no greater Love has one than to give up His Life for a friend.’ Also, ‘I no longer Call you servants, but friends.’

…and since you’re pondering… why is it that Jesus Command’s Peter to feed His Lambs and His Sheep? …and why is it that when Telling Peter to Feed His Lambs Jesus qualifies Peter’s Love: “do you Love me more than these?” …and why the formality: “Simon son of John?”

Maran atha!



Great note, my friend. :thumbsup:

God bless you.



Who is it that tends the lambs and feeds the sheep?

A shepherd.

The Lord neither left us orphans, nor did He leave us without a shepherd.


Jews back then were pretty fluent in Greek.


Galilee had a significant greek speaking population, so it’s quite possible that merchants (fisherman) and artisans (carpenters) would have had some Greek, not to mention the more highly educated. So the idea that Peter, John, Andrew, Philip, etc… may have been bilingual is not something easily dismissed. Perhaps they might not have been the most eloquent speakers of Greek, but they might have had enough.


Yes, but among themselves they would have spoken their native language – Aramaic. The times in the Gospels where Jesus was quoted directly (i.e., the sounds that actually came out of His mouth), He was quoted in Aramaic.


Hi, P!


…now my take is that Jesus is not just taking back Simon’s denial (3 Ds - 3 Ls = we’re squared out); Jesus is actually reinforcing His Demand’s on Simon and Compelling him to reinforce his Commitment to Christ… further, there’s a distinction made by Christ between the Lamb and the Sheep… what I ascertain from this is that Jesus is separating the yearlings (the Ten) from the rest of the Fold and He is Commissioning Simon to tend to these especially:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]25 But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. 26 This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

(St. Matthew 20:25-28)
…and we see from Scriptures that this is exactly the development that takes place in the Church:

2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him.

(St. Matthew 10:2-4)

15 Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose 16 to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. 18 Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, 19 I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord, 20 and I swear before God that what I have just written is the literal truth. (Galatians 1:15-20)
The deference given to Cephas is notable.

(Tangent: Galatians 1 puts a cork on those claims that Saul got schooled/instructed/converted/brought into the Faith by human means.)

…and on the flip side we find that Cephas does not lord his Delegation over others as he does not only accept the other Apostles’ contribution but he recognizes God’s Hand in their works:

12 That is why I am continually recalling the same truths to you, even though you already know them and firmly hold them. 13 I am sure it is my duty, as long as I am in this tent, to keep stirring you up with reminders, 14 since I know the time for taking off this tent is coming soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ foretold to me. 15 And I shall take great care that after my own departure you will still have a means to recall these things to memory.

15 Think of our Lord’s patience as your opportunity to be saved: our brother Paul, who is so dear to us, told you this when he wrote to you with the wisdom that is his special gift. 16 He always writes like this when he deals with this sort of subject, and this makes some points in his letter hard to understand; these are the points that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture – a fatal thing for them to do.

(2 St. Peter 1:12-15; 3:15-16)
We find that while Scriptures do not hold much in the Written Word coming from St. Peter, he in deed was very actively involved in the Spiritual Life of the Church… yet, he was humbly admonishing the Church not lording his status over the “lowly” followers.

Maran atha!




Hi, Dave!

…I have wondered about this myself… how can we tell that this in deed was the case; I’ve noticed that the Jerusalem Bible hold certain passages as a direct quote (ie: [FONT=“Garamond”][size=]‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ St. Mark 15:34); while it is human nature to return to the custom/traditions of our homeland, is there definite proof of this… I mean, beyond the reflexive ‘home rule?’

It seems to me that Jesus would not have been *quoted *as above for simple aesthetics or “dramatic effect.”

Maran atha!




Here is a partial list of the unique relationship between Christ and Peter, from another thread:

"Scriptural evidence and the structure of the primitive Church make it absolutely undeniable.
In the Gospels, Peter is mentioned 195 times. The closest is John (the beloved disciple) at just 29 times. The rest even less.
Jesus gave Peter the keys to the gates of Heaven.
Jesus declared Peter to the the rock.
Jesus made Peter shepherd.
Jesus told Peter to strengthen his brothers
Jesus paid the Temple tax only for Himself and Peter.
Jesus preached from Peter’s boat.
Jesus told Peter to "Follow me"
Jesus called only Peter to Him across the water.
Jesus predicted Peter’s three-fold denial.
Jesus predicted Peter’s repentance and three-fold affirmation.
Jesus prophesied only Peter’s death.
Jesus taught Peter forgiveness 70 times 7 times.
Jesus spoke only to Peter at Gethsemane.
Peter is always listed first.
Peter was first to confess Jesus as Messiah.
Peter alone spoke at the Transfiguration.
Peter pointed out the withered fig tree.
Peter entered the tomb first - John deferring to him.
Peter decided the manner of replacing Judas.
Peter spoke for the eleven at the Pentecost.
Peter was released from prison by the Angel.
Peter spoke for the eleven before the Council.
Peter held sin bound to Ananias and Saphira.
Peter’s shadow healed.
Peter declared the sin of Simony.
Peter explained the salvation of the Gentiles to the Church at Jerusalem.
The Angel told Cornelius to call for Peter.
The Holt Spirit fell upon the Gentiles as Peter preached to them.
At the empty tomb, the Angel said, "Go tell His disciples, and Peter."
Mary Magdalene ran to tell Peter and the beloved disciple.
The vision of all foods being clean was given only to Peter.
Peter’s words silence the first council in Jerusalem.
Paul went to Peter to affirm that his Gospel was not in vain.
And on and on and on.

So, one can deny that Peter was primary, but it takes an amazing disregard of scripture and history to do so."


If there is a distinction between agape and philo, and if Jesus is pointing out something that Peter lacked at the time, it doesn’t undermine the Papacy.

Saint Augustine likened the terms (diligis and amas in Latin), rather than calling one “lesser” than the other, so I definitely won’t fault anyone who goes that route with my sprinkling of knowledge of koine greek. But we don’t need to respond to this topic as if it threatens Peter’s authority or choose our interpretation as if the Papacy is at stake.


Hi, P!

While a lot of the items on the list are incidentals (following a natural process) it is quite a long list and when coupled with the deliberate acts, it is indisputable that Peter was singled out as the Leader of the Church.

Maran atha!




I don’t think that there’s a threat being made; but it is interesting to note that those who purpose to demonstrate a distinction do not usually pick up anything else; so I thought it interesting to point out these other factors.

Maran atha!


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